Thursday, 16 December 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
1. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the way in which he will support transport workers and business, specifically taxis and hauliers, in view of Covid-19 restrictions and runaway fuel and operating costs; the detail of his engagement with the sectors and plans for the introduction of relief measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [62647/21]
I want to ask the Minister of State the way in which she will support transport workers and business, specifically taxis and hauliers, in view of Covid-19 restrictions and runaway fuel and operating costs, the detail of her engagement with the sectors and plans for the introduction of relief measures.
The current spike in energy prices arises principally from the global recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. It has implications across the economy. With regard to the impact on transport, the Government will continue to monitor impacts on trade and key supply chains as it has done through the challenges arising from Brexit and the pandemic.
Road hauliers are currently supported in the cost of diesel through the diesel rebate scheme, introduced in 2013. In budget 2020, in recognition of the challenging environment the haulage industry faced at that time with regard to the prospect of a disorderly Brexit, the scheme was enhanced to the extent that when the retail price of auto diesel is over €1.07, the marginal rate of compensation increases to 60% of the excise paid up to a maximum repayment rate of 7.5 cent per litre when the price of auto diesel is €1.16 or over. In recognition of the vital role the haulage sector plays in the economy, the 2020 enhancement has been maintained since. It is worth noting also that businesses registered for VAT may deduct the VAT charged to them on the purchase of business inputs, such as road diesel and other motoring costs.
The Minister, Deputy Ryan, and I met with representatives of the Irish Road Haulage Association, IRHA, on 10 December to discuss a range of issues, including fuel prices, decarbonisation of the heavy goods vehicle, HGV, sector and skills issues, including the HGV driver shortage. At the meeting with IRHA, the Minister and I agreed to consider a proposal to expand the relief available to hauliers under the diesel rebate scheme, but with a link to the phasing out of older, more polluting vehicles and an overall reduction in emissions from the sector. Details of that proposal are to be submitted by the IRHA to the Department. The meeting was constructive. We will meet the IRHA again in the new year.
On supports for taxi drivers, the vast majority of measures we have taken in support of the taxi industry from the start of the pandemic remain in place.
I will start with taxi drivers, if the Minister of State does not mind. She will be aware that taxi drivers are back to square one in relation to this pandemic. I raised this with the Taoiseach and he pointed towards a booming economy in quarter 3 as some sort of defence of the Government's position on support for taxi drivers and the industry generally. Taxi drivers have been put to the pin of their collar and beyond. The night-time economy is gone. The daytime economy is 50% or less. Taxi drivers who are on the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, are having the PUP reduced. We are told by the Minister for Social Protection that taxi drivers can apply for the PUP again but that is not happening in practice. They are being refused access to the PUP time and again. They need the Minister of State's support.
I am okay, thank you. I appreciate that, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
On the pandemic unemployment payment for small public service vehicle, SPSV, drivers, we all acknowledge how that industry has been hit during the pandemic. As many as 70% of them availed of the PUP at the height of the pandemic and, as the Deputy may be aware, the PUP has been reopened for a limited time to support people who lose their employment as a result of Covid. The self-employed SPSV operators can continue to claim the PUP and earn up to €960 in a given eight-week period. There is also an enterprise support grant of €1,000 for drivers coming off the PUP that can go towards the costs associated with returning to work, personal protective equipment, PPE, etc. There have been waivers of the licensing fee and a refund of motor tax for taxi drivers.
The Minister, Deputy Ryan, has met on a number of occasions with the Advisory Committee on Small Public Service Vehicles - that is a statutory committee established under the Taxi Regulation Act 2013 - and he has been discussing many of the issues affecting the industry at present. My time has run out. I will let the Deputy back in.
What I would say on that, to conclude on taxis, is that the Ministers - the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, and the Minister, Deputy Ryan - need to meet urgently with the taxi representative groups. The Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, is outlining the supports there but she knows as well as I do that the real question here relates to the PUP, and that needs to be resolved. It is not working the way Government says it is and I would like them to meet.
On haulage and truck drivers, will the Minister of State outline the engagements she has had? She will be aware of the frustration within the sector. The protests that have been happening are motivated by the substantial challenges in the sector in terms of the increasing price of fuel. Tinkering on the edge with the rebate scheme and the alternative fuel scheme will not address it. They need urgent action. How quickly can they expect to see measures that impact on their running costs and fuel costs?
On the Minister, Deputy Ryan's engagement with the taxi industry, he has met representatives on several occasions, including representatives of several taxi unions twice. Last month, the Minister met a representative of the taxi dispatch operators. Other members of Government, including the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, have also met with taxi driver representatives.
As I say, the self-employed operators can continue to claim the PUP and earn up to €960 in any given eight-week period, and the other supports that were in place throughout the pandemic continue. I refer to the motor tax rebate. Even the age of your vehicle now has been extended to the end of 2022. There are a number of supports there.
On the haulage sector, our meeting with the IRHA last week was very constructive. This is, I acknowledge, a sector that is very challenged in reducing emissions. There are no alternatives there - nothing, that is, in the short term. That is why we are waiting on the IRHA to come back to work with us in relation to a proposal around that. I have been engaging with association representatives over a number of months on a number of issues related to the driver shortage as well as skills and I have to say my meetings with them have been very constructive.